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Alice Jeffress Howell Powell

SoVaNow.com / July 27, 2020

Our mom, Alice Jeffress Howell Powell, died peacefully in her sleep at her “Little House” in Boone, N.C., Sunday, July 19, 2020 at the age of 91.

Mom was a force of nature all her life. She embraced everything life had to offer and wasted no time getting at it.

As a child, Mom ran wild and carefree with her five brothers and sisters in the foothills of her beloved historic home place, Athlone Farm, in Amherst, a large working farm that was home to an extended family of immigrants.

At Athlone, Mom learned the importance of hard work, the need to treat everyone with respect and dignity, and the value of a dollar. She grew up by the scruff of her neck, strong and confident.

She graduated in 1950 from Roanoke College with honors and an English degree. Subsequently she became a sixth-grade teacher. On Nov. 11, 1951, she married our father and her soulmate, Nathaniel Thomas “Dick” Powell, the son of a tenant farmer from Halifax.

She and our father moved to Raleigh, N.C., and first settled in “VetVille,” a housing community for veterans seeking a college education under the G.I. Bill. Dad became a professor of plant pathology at NCSU, and they built a full life and raised their children in Raleigh.

Mom always went in search of what she wanted, and then figured out a way to get it, a lesson all of her daughters have never forgotten. She substitute taught, worked in the Department of Food Sciences at NCSU, and worked in the hotel industry. She could do anything.

When she reached one goal, she set another. She helped establish Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church and spearheaded numerous programs under its roof. Her cooking became legendary, and when hurricanes ravaged her neighborhood, she fed her neighbors off the grill on her backyard deck. Her impressionistic paintings proudly hang to this day throughout personal galleries up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Her handmade ceramic roosters still crow on many a bookshelf. She was a singer, a songwriter, a poet, a lover of the written and spoken word, and an accomplished writer.

Mom always looked like a million bucks. When money was tight (actually, even when it wasn’t), she stood first in line at yard sales to score high-end blouses and slacks and snagged prom dresses for her daughters off $8 clearance racks.

Mom became one of a whole generation of strong women who raised likewise strong women. She was a loving influence who devotedly attended our physical and emotional needs, encouraged (and insisted on) our educations, listened to and cheered on our aspirations, and loved us all unconditionally.

After Dad retired, Mom found a way to return to Athlone, inheriting the home place and investing heart and soul into it just as her father had done a generation before. Later, when the historic home tragically burned to the ground, Mom rebuilt it in its entirety exactly one foot off of its original foundation.

She then became an active supporter of the Amherst County Museum And Historical Society, a museum dedicated to the history and people of her home county, and she brought new life and light to her family’s historic church, Saint Mark’s Episcopal. The cookbook she organized for the church was dedicated to her vision. She delivered daily meals to elderly former Athlone farmhands, and restored Athlone’s seven historic outbuildings one by one.

Mom and Dad hung tightly together throughout their lives. She and our father adored each other, and she stood tall and strong for him when he became terminally ill in 2007 and then scattered his ashes across the landscapes of their lives when he passed.

The loss of our father would have grounded an ordinary spirit, but Mom was no ordinary spirit. She started a memorial garden in Dad’s honor at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church and, when that was done, she designed, built and dedicated a splendid memorial garden large enough for her entire extended family under the tall walnut and magnolia trees at Athlone. She enjoyed vacations with her daughters, renovated her kitchen on a whim one day when there was nothing else to do, and took long drives throughout the countryside looking for adventure.

Over her final years, she willed her way back into action from a broken pelvis, broken ribs, and two broken hip surgeries. Even in her very last days, she fought with everything she had against the dying of the light.

Our mom was a Renaissance woman, and it took 91 years of living for her to express and impart to us all of her gifts. We still suspect she took a few secret ones with her.

Alice was born on Jan. 1, 1929 in Amherst County to the late John V. Howell Sr. and Maria Louise Borum.

She is survived by her daughters Pamela Powell Williamson (Jerry), Rebecca Powell O’Connell (Kevin), and Celia Powell Liebl (Rex); by her grandchildren Shannon O’Connell Van Heest (Kyle), Kevin Brent O’Connell Jr., Samuel Thomas Liebl, Rebecca O’Connell Shelton (Bailey), and Joseph Morton Liebl. She is also survived by five great granddaughters: Margaret, Alice Virginia, Blythe, Emmeline, and Adaire Van Heest, as well as by three beloved sisters-in-law: Betty and Robbie Howell, Elizabeth (Libby) Howell-Jennings, and many nieces and nephews.


She was preceded in death by her husband, Nathaniel Thomas “Dick” Powell, her sisters Mary Louise Johnson and Margaret Perry, and by her brothers John V. Howell,Jr, Thomas Howell, and Robert Howell.

Due to COVID-19, the family plans to hold “Celebration of Life” services once it is safe to do so.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 670 Patrick Henry Highway, Clifford, VA, 24533; Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church, 4900 Kaplan Drive, Raleigh, NC, 27606; The Amherst County Museum And Historical Society, PO Box 741, Amherst, VA 24521; or to a personal cause of choice.

The family directs those who are interested to visit (https://austinandbarnesfuneralhome.com) for more pictures and details about our mom’s extraordinary life.

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